WASSCE: How Prepared are Liberian Students?

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On Tuesday, April 1, 2014, the Head of the National Office of the West African Examinations Council in Monrovia (WAEC), Mr. John Y. Gayvolor, Sr., announced that the 5,034 students who registered to sit this year’s West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), will begin writing the exams today, Thursday.

Reading from a prepared list of statistics regarding the number of registered students late Tuesday evening, April 1, at his Congo Town office, Mr. John Y. Gayvolor, Sr., disclosed that of the number of registered students, 2,569 are males constituting 51.03 percent, while 2,495 are females, who constitute 48.97 percent.

To this number, Mr. Gayvolor reported an increment of 765 or 17.92 percent, against the number of students that sat the test last academic year.

Unlike last year when students who sat the WASSCE represented 32 schools only in Montserrado and Margibi counties, this year students registered from a total of 47 schools in three counties, including Montserrado, Margibi and Grand Bassa.

The WAEC head of office told the Daily Observer that of the 47 schools, seven are publicly-owned and constitute 15.91 percent; the remaining 37 or 84.09 percent represent privately-owned or faith-based institutions.

Processes leading to the registration of students for WASSCE, Mr. Gayvolor said, were “opened to all schools across the country, but with this number of students that registered for the exercise, it leaves one to wonder as to whether the Liberian students in general were adequately prepared for the tests.”

With the writing of the WASSCE, WAEC is of the hope that by next academic year, writing of the WAEC may phase out, and in its place, the WASSCE will be fully activated.

Writing the WASSCE will continue up to the end of the April 2014 in keeping with the rules that govern its administration.

Unlike the WASSCE, which covers many more subject areas than its predecessor, the WAEC had previously been offered in only four subject areas, with multiple-choice questions. It later increased to nine subjects. But the WASSCE covers all subject areas, testing the breadth of each student’s world view through general knowledge questions.

Considering Liberia’s own curriculum where the students are taught in nine to twelve subject areas, the WASSCE is more complex because of the inclusiveness of all subject areas from Math to Music, English to Economics, Shorthand to Computer Science, etc.

At a stakeholders’ meeting three weeks prior to the commencement of the WASSCE, principals from various schools in Monrovia and its environs were expected to tell the WAEC administration how academically prepared their students are. Instead, some of them spoke of the constraints and challenges their respective schools were faced with due to lack of libraries, laboratories and modern (approved) curriculum and instructional materials.

Some of them even spoke of lack of qualified instructional staff, meaning most of the teachers assigned to the high school levels were themselves not academically up to the task to prepare the students, particularly in the fields of sciences, which formed part of the compulsory subjects featured in the WASSCE.

That open outcry from school administrators complaining of constraints and challenges in the sector sent signals of near-panic apprehension as to how well prepared the students would be for this new standardized test. This has no doubt invoked fears of a repeat “mass failure” by students, similar to the recent instance with the entrance exams at the University of Liberia in 2013.

What is WASSCE?

The WASSCE is a type of standardized test in West Africa. It is administered by the WAEC and is only offered to candidates residing in Anglophone West African countries.

However, there are two different types of the examinations: WASSCE, (November/December) also known by its former name, the General Certificate Examinations (GCE). All students from private and public schools are allowed to take this examination, and uniforms are not compulsory.

Moreover, other rules and regulations are applied on every candidate.

Then there is WASSCE (May/June) – also known as the Senior School Certificate Examinations (SSCE), its former name. It is made for all private and public schools in West Africa.

Students must wear distinctive uniforms as required by the standards set by the school boards. This examination is offered in the months of May to June, and the results are available by August.

The following compulsory subjects including English Language, Mathematics, and Civic Education are offered for WASSCE candidates. Other subjects including Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Further Mathematics, Geography, Technical Drawing, Financial Accounting, French, Commerce, Economics, Physical Education, Metal Works, Auto Mechanics, Music, Shorthand, Clothing Textiles, Islamic Studies, Literature in English, Building Construction, Ibo, Yoruba, Hausa Languages, Foods Nutrition, Visual Art, Typewriting, Christian Religious Knowledge, History, Arabic, Agricultural and Health Sciences, Applied Electricity, Electronics, Woodwork, Home Management, Government, Computer Science and Information Technology.  Students are expected to choose from among the list of subjects, based on academic or possible career interest, which one they would be best prepared to write.

With this elaborate list of the subjects, one would agree that the education system in post-war Liberia might still be in its infancy, if not “messy” state as the President once described it since, at some of the high schools, particularly the public schools, none of the subjects that are listed for WASSCE are offered or even introduced to the students as a possible focus.

The curriculum does not offer any of Liberia’s 16 tribal languages as one of the required subjects.  The Vai language of western Liberia is one of the only African languages that can boast of its own, original script.  Also, at the university level, where Kpelle is being introduced because of its popular use throughout the country, the teaching manuals are scarce, if at all available.

The preparedness of majority of Liberian students for this new academic regime (WASSCE), therefore, leaves much to be desired.

At the completion of these exams, students will be graded by merit and sorted into categories of performance.  The top three categories are known as divisions, with grades between 65% (Division 3) and 100% (Division 1).  To achieve a borderline pass in the exam, a candidate must obtain (score) a grade point between 100 to at least 44 percent.

No doubt, the bar has been raised and, with the ousting of the infamous “flexibility fees” and pre-WAEC camps conducted by schools, the chances of cutting corners by both students and school administrations alike are getting slimmer.  The only way up may through good, old-fashioned discipline and hard work.  Perhaps one can begin to look forward to a caliber of schools that can make their students stand out, and a reciprocal caliber of students that can make their school(s) proud.

But beginning today, each school and each student will have to face the test, standing on his or her own two feet.

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